A religious experience.

I hate being called religious. A spiritual Christian? Not so bad. Here’s a snipet of what religion has looked like in my interestingly adventurous life:

I joined a religious community for about 5 years.

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I had just quit using drugs and partying the month I showed up to my new church. My first day there was a Friday and a section of the service was open-mic. Testimony time.

I was SO excited by God intervening in my life and saving me from death just weeks before. I jumped on the opportunity. I rushed to the front, took the microphone, and began to share about how God mercifully saved me. I wore a T-shirt, had big silver hoops in my ears, had a long blingy necklace on, and wore eye makeup that was much too dark for such a gathering.

I didn’t know I stood out.

Within the next 5 years, I was squeezed and pushed into the most uncomfortable mold. All I knew was that I wanted to make God happy! My new community of people was telling me- “Anna, that make up isn’t godly. You need to wear a head-covering. You shouldn’t wear jewelry. You laugh too much. That music you listen to? It’s secular. (Which was Skillet, Red, Lecrae, etc.) Your personality? Much too rebellious. Sister, you NEED to change! In fact, you need to call girls “sisters” and guys “brothers.” You’ve also gotta stop using the word “crap.”

You see, I always needed to change. Nothing was ever good enough.

Now if you are the perfectionist type, a people pleaser, and a passionate God lover, that makes for quite the combination. It’s easy to get lost. 

I lost who I was. I traded in my identity. I gave up who Christ called me to be. I became a slave to people. I wanted to fit in, but as hard as I tried, I still always stood out!

Maybe I was never called to be part of the crowd.Image result for getting out of the boat and walking on water

I came more “Americanized” than others to the Russian community. I came with a backpack of Utah sarcasm to people who misinterpreted it as mean and cocky. I arrived too loud.

5 years and 50,000 trials later, I realize that’s the only person I want to be: I want to be that outsider who runs up before more 100+ people to share about the miracles God’s done in my life, not having a care in the world of what they might think.

Since I’ve left that circle, cult, or maybe crowd, I’ve been on a journey back to the “me” God has called me to be. As such, I’m able to love freely, and when I share Christ, I share Him passionately. I’ve learned that my outside appearance will never please everyone. (Lately, it’s my tattoos that religious folks are triggered by.) Perhaps, it’s not the outside that really matters. I’ve undoubtedly had a fair share of mistakes, and I have yet to reach perfection!

On my own, I am sinful, but in Christ, I am righteous. As long as I have His grace, I’ll stay alive. Because it’s not about what I can do, but about what He has done. HE is all we need. 

Religion squelches. Law kills. Spirit gives life.

2-Corinthians 3: 4-6: “ And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

[That’s the MSG Version- Because yes, I read a version different than KJ or NKJ. I also don’t mind NIV. P.S: Another thing I was told in the religious circle was that I have to read the “right” version of the Bible. Those folks must have missed that that the point is the message & not the vocab.]

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Acknowledging the good.

Say what you want, you will always find that which you seek. I have no problem finding powerful revelations in sermons of controversial preachers, life lessons in TV shows, or genuine advice in Eminem’s crazy lyrics:

“So this is for every kid who all’s they ever did was dreamt that one day just getting accepted, I represent him or her, anyone similar, you are the reason that I made this song, Everything you’re scared to say don’t be afraid to say no more…”

~Guts over Fear

James 1:17 says, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” (KJV)

A person doesn’t have to belong to the same religion as you do, for you to value them. They don’t have to believe what you believe for you to respect them. You don’t have to agree on everything with a person to just be able to love them. And as a couple of my favorite teachers teach: “Achieving greatness in the kingdom is impossible without recognizing greatness in another.” (Bill Johnson) & “You only have as much influence in someone’s life as they have value for you.” (Kris Vallotton)

All that to say, the following are little slivers from sermons I listened to this week. Allow me to share these nuggets of truth with you:

David Wilkerson-

“You don’t get to know God’s heart through miracles…”

-The Israelite people saw miracles in front of their eyes, yet they ended up wandering that blasted desert for 40 years due to their unbelief. I’ve seen people chase miracles (even I was tempted to do so) plenty of times in hopes of getting to know God more.

“You get to know God when He meets you in your trial…”

Pastor Furtick-

“Some of the greatest invitations in our lives come in the form of interruptions…”

– Furtick talked about the virgin Mary in this sermon. One of the coolest thoughts was that while Mary was planning a wedding, God interrupted her with a pregnancy. That interruption had a much greater result than a perfect wedding ever could.

“Plan for imperfection.”

“If you don’t learn how to celebrate your strengths, you can’t address your weaknesses.”

“Jacob pretended to be somebody else (Esau), so he could have what another had…”

– Jacob tried to trick his father by pretending to be his bro so he could have the blessing that his bro was meant to have. Not being true to ourselves blinds us from seeing what is meant for us to have.

“What I hide, God cannot heal.”

“The places of your greatest isolation, often become the places of your greatest revelation.”

-The loneliest times of my life have resulted in the coolest abstract paintings, heartfelt blog posts, songs, poems, etc.

“If  you will devote yourself to the issues within you, He’ll handle the issues around you.”

Papa God’s got it all yo. He’s got your back. And front. And insides. And so forth.

Joe.

You’re chattin’ with buddy Joe. It’s morning, gray outside, and you’d prefer a good ol’ cup o’ Joe over the read deal sitting right next to you. Joe depressingly shares the struggle he’s going through. You’re not sure if it’s still the loss of a cat he’s talking about, but all you hear is- ‘whine, complain, & “I’m a victim.”‘ 

“If HE thinks that’s hard, let ME tell him about the loss I’ve faced in my wise years.” You share your tragic grief and end with, “See Joe, I came through it! I’M not complaining. I’m making sublime lemonade from Life’s Lemons.”

One might argue that you are an encouragement, but another might say it’s pure disregard and insensitivity to Mr.Joe.

Take a child. In his curious eyes, your driveway is a really steep hill which he’s afraid to ride his bicycle (with training wheels) too fast on. For you, it’s a tiny slope where you mindlessly park your car daily. You breeze through it in 8 adult steps, or maybe 80 baby ones.

What is trauma for one, might not be for another. Joe’s tragedy might be cakewalk for you.

Cool, you’re cool. Cool! We’re all on our own journey. Even Joe Dirt was on quite the unique one. We have a choice: Will we destroy or will we listen and build up?

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Oh, HEY JOE!

the Jesus people.

“You’re free to be you,” the woman said.

“You’re adopted into our family.”

“God is Gouda, thank you Cheesus,” she laughed.

And quite frankly the man had correct discernment and enough courage to tell me, “You’ve got an eating disorder.”

The woman cut off my hair for me one night as it didn’t make me holier. A few months later she trusted me to do the same to hers.

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Jesus became my Rockstar (He is the Rock and the greatest Star! I was so excited about such a discovery!) and I was no longer scared to call God “Daddy” in place of “Heavenly Father.”  To love reading books outside of the Bible became a joy to me again and I was reunited with the little girl I once used to be.

They were not perfect, but Christ in them was. They valued me and honored me. For the first time in life I was accepted, just as I was.

You see, today I had quite the therapy session. Mostly we talked about my relationship/resentment towards my mother. My therapist asked me, “So, what is it that led you to finally start valuing yourself and stop letting yourself get manipulated?” I knew what it was. A family in Africa demonstrated real love to me and light was shed upon my heart. The time spent with them has forever changed me and now I see in a way I couldn’t see before. The therapist says, “You speak of them so differently. You get such a big smile on your face. How did they make you feel?” I replied, “Accepted.”

The mom wasn’t a neat-freak. The dad watched a lot of TV. The children ran around noisily. But at the end of the day, the woman put her boys to sleep and sang to them and the husband waited for his wife. And they freakin loved each other. (Hannah I hope you read that <——)

They were the closest thing to Jesus people I had ever met.

(& then there was a very fun girl, a faithful sister-listener, and a couple from England that loved on me. they all were shining Jesus too.)

A Plunge.

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Okay… Not that kind of Plunge. Please. Keep Reading.

You try something new. You branch out. You step out of your comfort parallelogram. You decide that it’s time for something new and big in your life. comfort-zone

You take the first few steps. The rest seems impossible. The ground below you is rocky and you stub a toe. The circumstances around you, the people, the time you’ve got left- all add to your frenzy.

 

Should I have done this? Maybe this journey is impossible for me… Sure, others have made it before me, but I won’t make it in time. 

A life goal. A dream. A journey of healing. Forgiveness. Life changes. A career. Marriage. Kids. Loans. Putting yourself out there. Creating music. Painting art. Traveling abroad. Living your whole life in your hometown. Adoption. A church ministry. ED recovery (That one’s for me.), whatever is on your living heart.

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Whatever you’ve decided to do, in hopes of getting to your goal, you’ve taken a step of faith. But you glance back. You get the thought: Perhaps it wasn’t so bad back there. Maybe life was not that bad when I was lonely, bitter, and at the mercy of others. The rocks under your feet are relentlessly reminding you that you’re already in a different place now and there’s no going back! Your goal seems distant and you taste the dust. You wonder if the journey will be worth it. With what you see going on around you- the chaos, the noise, you can only hope and trust.

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The Israelite Fam stepped onto a rocky path once, unpaved. Behind them was death, before them was life. On the sides the waters piled high. Maybe at least one of them had the thought, “All of this can just collapse on me and for my efforts I’ll be screwed.” But God was unyielding. He got them through. The barbaric walls that reached toward the sky loomed in their eyes, but never came crashing down. They had to trust their Heavenly Papa. They had to trust that if He told them to drive on Sea-Bottom Avenue, He was going to take care of his babies.

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With whatever you’ve decided to do, or perhaps are simply debating on doing, something that will bring life and a better future for you- trust your Dad in. He can teleport you, run across the waves holding your hand, or He can simply teach you how to swim. Those who stood against you, maybe even laughed, picked on you, or tell you to stop- they get pummeled in the end. And you? You’re standing on fresh ground. You’ve crossed to the other side. It’s sunny here. It’s warm. You think it to be nice. You did it. It’s done.sunshine1